Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What's your name again?

So now that you've got the business card of your Asian contact in front of you, you still can't figure out his/her name from his/her surname. And believe me it gets all the more tricky as you are not familiar with Asian names. Generally in China the family name comes first. Take “Lee Chong Ming” for example: his first name would be “Chong Ming” and his family name “Lee”. It gets a bit easier in Hong-Kong as people there generally join their first names with a hyphen; our example would then translate to “Lee Chong-Ming”. Note that nowadays more and more Chinese take a Western name either given by their first English teacher or  by a family member; something like "Bryan Lee".

In Japan people are called by their surname to which you add “san” at the end as a mark of respect. For example you should call Mr Takahashi as “Takahashi-san”. On the other hand in Thailand people use “khun” in front of the first name; for example “khun Wisit” for someone whose first name is Wisit and whose family name would be Sukprakan. To conclude, keep in mind that in Korea and in China women keep their maiden name. So don’t ask Mr Koh how Mrs Koh is doing. It would be considered very indelicate.

Be very careful with the way you address people in Asia. For example, calling someone by his/her first name at the first meeting when you don't know each others that well would be seen as a lack of sincerity from your side. In any case, if you are having any doubts about how to call someone, just ask the person directly or someone close to him/her and make sure you memorize it properly. It’s better to be too formal than too familiar. Show respect and use titles if required. Similarly, don’t hesitate to tell people how you want them to call you.

[Feel free to use and share this material for non-commercial purpose. And don't hesitate to share your experience and questions in the comments or by email; I will come back to you as quickly as possible. Happy reading!]